Bob Westerfield is the extension consumer horticulturist for the University of Georgia.


Odd Tools for Odd Jobs
by Bob Westerfield - posted 08/01/18


By the time we hit the hot months of July and August, most folks would rather be sipping cold tea in their air-conditioned homes rather than working out in their gardens or mowing their lawns. By this time, garden chores such as mowing grass, weeding flowerbeds and tending to our vegetable garden have been a major part of our schedules throughout the spring and early summer months. While most gardeners are usually equipped with the proper tools to accomplish necessary tasks, there are a few oddball tools out there that may be worth taking a look at. Many of these tools are designed to accomplish specific jobs that would otherwise be very time consuming and much more frustrating. The right tools can definitely make the job easier and more enjoyable. Here is a quick look at some of the equipment out there and how to decide what you really need.

The first rule of thumb is not to set out to stock up on all of these more obscure implements before you have the basics. Once that’s done, you can begin collecting specialty gardening tools. While there are about as many tools out there as there are gardening chores, some are practical choices that you will use often. We will cover the basics, as well as some of the more niche and “luxury” tools out there.

Instead of buying separate string trimmers, tillers and pruners, you may want to look at buying a combo unit. You simply switch out different attachments for many odd jobs.

We all have had issues with garden pests and plant diseases at some point. This makes a pump sprayer an obvious first choice. They are versatile because they can be used for various purposes, such as treating plants with insecticidal soap or feeding them with a nutritious mist of plant food or fertilizer. Handheld sprayers are great for a beginner since they are lightweight and easy to use. These are ideal for smaller jobs.

The next step-up would be a backpack sprayer that can hold up to four times the amount of liquid that a handheld sprayer can. Both types work virtually the same. There are even models of sprayers that are either battery powered or gas powered with small motors that handle the chore of pumping the tank to build pressure. If you do a lot of spraying, these can come in handy.

Saw-toothed shovels are designed to penetrate hard or rocky soils.

With pests under control, it is time to plant new plants or transplant existing ones. This can be done easily with the right tools. Although a basic hand shovel is fine, there are tools available to make the job more efficient. Hand cultivators or small tillers make planting larger areas easier because they loosen the soil quickly and efficiently. If you have confined flowerbeds, a poacher’s spade might be more useful than a regular spade or shovel. A cross between the two, it is great for use in smaller areas.

If bulbs are your passion, the next tool that might find its way into your garden shed is a bulb planter. These oddly shaped tools are designed to remove a plug of dirt, making a perfect hole for planting a bulb. A dibbler is a tapered tool that pokes holes in the soil much the same way, but they can also come in handy when dealing with seedlings and transplants.

Trenching shovels are designed in a way that allows you to dig narrow, horizontal ditches. This is a handy tool for installing irrigation or electric wires in your landscape.

Most backyard gardeners own a basic garden or spading fork. These are great for many jobs, but you might find yourself in need of a hand fork, which is just a smaller version that is useful for transplanting. A square-mouthed shovel is also a great addition to your collection of “scooping” tools, and is often used to clear gravel, soil, sand or other material from driveways, patios, etc.If lawn care is your top priority, there are many tools from which to choose. Beyond the lawnmower, you will want to purchase a combination string-trimmer-edger-tiller. These combo units use the same power head, but have detachable ends where you can put the various tools in place. If you desire a clean edge for your beds, driveway and walkways, use the edger attachment. If you need to trim around the fence or another area, attach the string trimmer head. The model I have also runs a small chain saw pole pruner to remove small branches, as well as a tiller attachment for tilling up small beds.

The size of your yard and your budget will determine which route you might take. If you have an endless budget, you might consider purchasing a robotic mower. These have been on the market for a while now, and the prices have dropped a bit. They are still quite expensive and can be tricky to put to use in yards that are not level; plus, they usually only cover an area of up to 3⁄4 of an acre. This luxury would be equivalent to having a full-time gardener on staff. These machines are quiet and energy efficient, which adds to their appeal.

The WOLF-Garten® Draw Hoe is ergonomically designed for comfort and features an extra sharp blade to break up soil and weeds in one effortless motion.

In addition to lawn mowing, there is also the job of aerating. While this is not an every-season job, it is something that should be periodically done in order to maintain a healthy lawn. A spiking fork is a specialty fork used to aerate lawns. If you have a small yard, you can purchase a handheld fork; you might even want to purchase aerating sandals. You can find these in garden catalogs as sort of a novelty, but tromping around your yard wearing those actually gets the job done! For larger areas, it is generally recommended that you rent a professional aerator.

There are also specialty tools for trimming, such as shears, which come in many different sizes, shapes and varieties. Some gardeners even own sheep shears, which are great for trimming grass low to the ground where that’s needed. A lot of shears serve multiple purposes, but some are very specialized, such as deadheading shears, fruit and flower shears, or thinning shears. Start with a multipurpose style and decide from there if you need something more specialized. You can now purchase pruning clippers with ratcheting action or special grips for those that might have issues with hand strength or arthritis. If you are a serious gardener and have gotten into grafting, you might want to purchase a grafting kit. These often come with grafting wax and several specialized grafting tools, made solely for this job.

There are many unique tools available to help control weeds. The Weed Popper uses strong spikes that are pushed under the weed, which is then “popped” out when your foot presses down on the lever.

When it comes to digging, there are so many new shovel designs out there designed for specialty jobs. Traditional spade shovels now can be purchased with a toothed edge to penetrate hard or clay soils. Trenching shovels are specialty digging tools that remove soil horizontally; those come in handy when installing underground irrigation or wires. You may also want to consider a long narrow transplant shovel, designed to lift out root systems of plants you need to move.

With everything trimmed, pruned and edged, it is time to think about watering. Many watering options are available with different types of hoses, sprinklers and hose attachments. There are some interesting options on the market now that make this job easier, and sometimes entertaining. Traveling sprinklers are an easy way to reach many areas of your yard without the trouble of dragging your sprinkler from place to place. I even came across a sprinkler that doubles as a pest deterrent. When it senses a yard pest (bigger than an insect, of course), it turns on and runs for a while. Think of the giggles coming from your kids when a squirrel gets scared away when the water turns on.

Now that your shed houses not only the basics, but also your new collection of toys, I mean specialized tools, you can sit back and know that your summer gardening chores will be much easier and maybe even a little fun! But make sure to relax and grill up a burger or two.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Spitfire at en.wikipedia, Bob Westerfield, and


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